Utilizing Film and Television to Illuminate Career Development Concepts

By Billie Streufert

Today's youth embrace television and film. According to Nielsen Media Research, 18 to 24 year olds watch an average of 2 hours and 41 minutes of television daily1.The Pew Research Center reports that 11% of traditional aged students go to the movies at least once per week and 47% do so at least monthly2.


Because today's youth are watching television and film, career development professionals have an opportunity and a responsibility to equip them with the tools needed to identify and evaluate career related messages. Media scenes can be used to demonstrate concepts, normalize students' experience, and initiate discussions. Concepts in the media that can be examined include self-efficacy, sex typing, social valuation, value conflicts, cultural perceptions of work and academic majors, factors to consider when selecting a major, and interview skills. For example, the film Office Space conveys coping techniques for career dissatisfaction. Without critical examination of this film, students may not evaluate the effectiveness of these strategies, associate Peter's behavior with burnout, or evaluate the ethical decision he makes regarding theft from his employer3.

In addition to their obligation to teach students to evaluate the messages in the media, career professionals also have the opportunity to use film and television to increase student engagement and participation in Career Center events. Students might otherwise dismiss an event related to career planning. A title of their favorite movie in an advertisement, however, may capture their attention and increase their interest in the event.

Television and film can also serve as a catalyst for critical thinking and learning. Through discussions, reflective writing and character analysis, the Career Development Center at The University of South Dakota has utilized the clips below to instruct career exploration and job search courses, as well as workshops within the Residence Halls. For example, job interviews are shown in Pursuit of Happyness4, Night at the Museum5, Men in Black6, Everybody Loves Raymond7, The Office8,9,10,11, Friends12,13, and Seinfeld14,15. These were used to decrease students' anxiety and identify interview faux pas. The chart below identifies other objectives that were achieved during workshops and classroom activities.


Film or Television Show



Normalize students' uncertainty and describe the concept of quarter life crises.

In Good Company16

At the conclusion of the movie, Carter states "I don't know what I want to do with my life, but I want it to mean something like this does to you."

Share statistics about the number of students who are uncertain about their major or career, as well as the number of students who change their major prior to graduation. Define in greater detail the occurrence of quarter life crises.

Evaluate perceptions of work.

Office Space3

At the conclusion of the movie, Joanne states, "Most people don't like their jobs, but you go out there and find something that makes you happy."

Share statistics related to the number of surveyed Americans who report career dissatisfaction. Facilitate a debate with students related to the nature of work. Ask the question if it is even possible to enjoy one's job or does "work suck" as the DVD cover suggests.

Evaluate cultural perceptions of career counseling.

Office Space3

Peter describes a technique his high school guidance counselor used to clarify his interests. She asked him what he would do if he won a million dollars. He goes on to debate the effectiveness of this technique and his own answer to this question with his colleagues.

Describe the counseling process and debunk common misconceptions such as "Career decision-making is easier," "An inventory can tell me what to do," and "there is a perfect career for me; I just have to find it."

Define the counseling process.


Jerry counsels George after he quits his job. Factors they consider in selecting a new career include his interests, labor market trends, and ability.

Describe the counseling process and the factors that one should consider. Facilitate a student debate related to the perception that individuals can succeed in any career that they choose.

Demonstrate misconceptions individuals have related to academic majors.

In Good Company16

When asked about her major at the local university, Alex states, "Creative writing isn't practical so I am thinking about switching to business."

Prior to viewing the film clip, have students complete a true/false quiz to assess their perceptions of career counseling and academic majors. This will help them identify the misconceptions that they hold. Conclude by explaining the value of a liberal arts education.

Assess students' interests.

Stranger than Fiction18

Ana informs Howard that she decided to become a baker while she was in law school because she loved baking cookies for her study group.

Explain the importance of self-assessment. Then interpret pre-completed interest inventories.

Define the concept of locus of control.

Forrest Gump19

As Forrest is talking with his dying mother, he asks, "What's my destiny, Mama." She responds, "I don't know. You'll have to figure that out for yourself, Forrest. Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're going to get."

Prior to showing this clip, administer a locus of control inventory. After the clip, define the term and interpret the inventory; Initiate a class debate related to the amount of control individuals have in regards to their career development and success.

Demonstrate the impact of occupational stereotypes on career selection.

Meet the Parents20

Gregg's in-laws constantly poke fun of him for being a "male nurse."

Define and discuss non-traditional occupations. Outline activities they can take if they are considering a non-traditional occupation, such as locating a mentor. Define Gottfredson's Theory of Circumscription.21 Challenge students to assess if they have unnecessarily eliminated career prospects.

Introduce the topic of social valuation and the sociological perspective.[21]

Everybody Loves Raymond22

Raymond takes the boys and their friend to a ballgame. While there, he advises the boys to throw their peanut shells on the ground because "that's what they pay the janitor for." In the rest of the episode, the characters debate the appropriateness of this statement.

Define occupational prestige. Have students rank occupations according to their level of prestige. Compare this to society's ranking.

Define informational interviewing.

Pursuit of Happyness4

The main character approaches a stock broker and asks him about the nature of his work and its job requirements. This then initiates his pursuit of a job in this area.

Explain the process of arranging and conducting an informational interview.

Teach students the value of experience and skill development.

Napoleon Dynamite23

The main character states that girls will only date him if he has "skills." Later his friend asks if people would vote for him. Together they assess his skills.

State that employers also expect candidates to have "skills." Engage students in skill assessment activities. Outline opportunities to obtain experience.

Define discrimination.

North Country24

This film portrays the discrimination that a woman encountered in a Minnesota mine in 1984. She later filed a lawsuit (Jenson vs. Eveleth Mines) and won.

Define discrimination and harassment. Share statistics related to its occurrence. Outline the legislation that prohibits it.

Define students' own view of success and failure.


Drew is fired after the failure of a shoe that he designed. To make things worse, Drew learns that his father has died. He travels to Kentucky to retrieve his body and ultimately ends up wrestling with his destiny. At one point in the movie, he looks at his father's urn and says "Look at us. Both of us working so hard and for what?"

Discuss with students society's definition of success and failure. This can then be compared to their own personal definition. Students can also discuss the reasons they work and define the limits of "working too hard."

Evaluate students' own definition of success.

Pursuit of Happyness4

The character encourages his son to "protect his dreams." The movie concludes with the protagonist landing his dream job and earning a large income.

Request that students identify and define "happyness" from the perspective of the movie. Students can also discuss the consequences of pursuing "happyness" for one's family.

Define work-life balance.


Michael discovers a remote control that allows him to fast forward to the future. As an aspiring architect, he uses the remote control to advance his career. The movie portrays the impact this has on his personal life.

Share statistics related to work-life balance. Identify strategies to promote this self-care.

Define Super's life space and life roles theory.21

The Family Man27

Campbell, the protagonist, aggressively pursued success. He never questioned this until he was given a glimpse by an angel of the life he would have had if he had made different decisions.

Discuss the choices individuals face related to family and careers. Explore how individuals simultaneously hold numerous roles and how they affect each other.

Define the symptoms of burnout. Discuss coping strategies.

Office Space3

Michael decides to steal from his company after learning that his two colleagues are laid off.

Share information related to the signs and symptoms of burnout. Discuss appropriate coping strategies and discuss the ethical impact of Michael's behavior.

Teach students to assess an employer's values.

Jerry Maguire28

In the opening scene, Jerry rewrites the mission statement to emphasize client relationships, which unfortunately meant less revenue for the company. Ultimately, the employer terminated Jerry's employment because of this value conflict.

Share information related to Brown's Value Based Holistic Model.21 Help students identify their own values. Have students review and assess the recruitment materials of various companies to identify the corporation's values. Identify interview questions students can ask to proactively avoid such conflict.

Define self-efficacy21 and identify barriers.

Everybody Loves Raymond29

Debra decides to return to work. When Raymond expresses some concerns, Robert calls him a "dream squasher."

Emphasize that students are often their own "dream squashers" because they eliminate career prospects due to their own perceptions of their ability. Students can also assess their support system to identify other "dream squashers."

In addition to the chart above, career counselors are also encouraged to review the films identified by the Programs for the Theological Exploration of Vocation30.This organization maintains a movie bibliography that identifies career themes in 45 movies.


Like it or not, students are watching extensive amounts of television and film. From these communication media, students are acquiring perceptions related to career decision-making, occupations and work. Given their popularity, career professionals have an opportunity to utilize these messages to frame career development concepts and complement the information presented in textbooks, classroom activities and lectures. This ultimately equips them with the skills needed to evaluate these messages critically in the future.


[1] McDonough, P. (2007). Does DVF play-back really hurt advertisers? TV ratings: The new math. Nielsen Media Research. Retrieved June 21, 2007, from http://www.nielsen.com/consumer_insight/ci_story1.html.

[2]Pew Research Company (2007, January). How young people view their lives, future, & politics: A portrait of 'generation next.' Retrieved June 21, 2007, from http://people-press.org/reports/pdf/300.pdf.

[3]Rappaport, D., Riedel, G. (Producers), & Judge, M. (Director). (1999). Office Space [Motion picture]. United States: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.

[4]Conrad, S. (Writer) & Muccino, G. (Director). (2006). Pursuit of Happyness. [Motion picture]. United States: Sony Pictures.

[5] Levy, S. (Director/Producer), Columbus, C., Sommers, S., & Ducsay, B. (Producers). (2007). Night at the Museum [Motion picture]. United States: 20th Century Fox.

[6] Cunningham, L, Solomon, E. (Writers), & Sonnenfeld, B. (Director). (1997). Men in Black [Motion picture]. United States: Columbia Pictures.

[7] Cawley, T. (Writer), & Halvorson, G. (Director). (2002). Lucky suit [Television series episode]. In R. Romano, P. Rosenthal, S. Skrovan, L. Schneider, T. Cawley, J. Stevens, S. Smiley, & R. Rosegarten (Producers), Everybody Loves Raymond. Los Angeles, CA: CBS.

[8] Schur, M. (Writer), & Blitz, J. (Director). (2007). The negotiation [Television series episode]. In G. Daniels & B. Silverman (Executive Producers), The Office. New York: NBC.

[9] Liberstein, P. (Writer), & Abrams, J. (Director). (2007). Cocktails [Television series episode]. In G. Daniels & B. Silverman (Executive Producers), The Office. New York: NBC.

[10] Soderbergh, S., Kilik, J., Degus, B., (Producers), & Ross, G. (Director/Producer). (1998). Schur, M., Liberstein, P. (Writers), & Kwapis, K. (Director). (2007). The job [Television series episode]. In G. Daniels & B. Silverman (Executive Producers), The Office. New York: NBC.

[11] Schur, M., Eisenberg, L., Stupnitsky, G. (Writers), & Daniels, G. (Director). (2007). The return [Television series episode]. In G. Daniels & B. Silverman (Executive Producers), The Office. New York: NBC.

[12] Klein Borkow, D. (Writer), & Halvorson, G. (Director). (2002). The one with the cooking class [Television series episode]. In K. Bright, M. Kauffman, & D. Crane (Executive Producers), Friends. New York: NBC.

[13] Reich, A. & Cohen, T. (Writers), & Jensen, S. (Director). (1999). The one with Rachel's inadvertent kiss [Television series episode]. In K. Bright, M. Kauffman, & D. Crane (Executive Producers), Friends. New York: NBC.

[14] Mehlman, P. (Writer) & Cherones, T. (Director). (1991). The nose job [Television series episode]. In L. David, Seinfeld, New York: NBC.

[15] David, L., Masters, B., Shaw, B. (Writers), & Ackerman, A. (Director). (1994). The chaperone [Television series episode]. In L. David, Seinfeld, New York: NBC.

[16] Weitz, C. (Producer), & Weitz, P. (Director/Producer). (2004). In Good Company [Motion picture]. United States: Universal Pictures.

[17] David, L. (Writer) & Cherones, T. (Director). (1991). The revenge [Television series episode]. In L. David, Seinfeld, New York: NBC.

[18] Doran, L. (Producer) & Forster, M. (Director). (2007). Stranger than Fiction [Motion picture]. United States: Columbia Pictures.

[19] Finerman, W., Tisch, S. Starkey, S. Newirth, C. (Producers), & Zemeckis, R. (Director). (1994). Forrest Gump [Motion picture]. United States: Paramount Pictures.

[20] De Niro, R., Rosenthal, J., Tenebaum, N. (Producers), & Roach, J. (Director/Producer). (2000). Meet the Parents [Motion picture]. United States: Universal Studios and Dreamworks Home Entertainment.

[21] Zunker, V. G. (2002). Career counseling: applied concepts of life planning (6th ed.). Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole.

[22] Schneider, L. (Writer), & Halvorson, G. (Director). (2005). Faux pas [Television series episode]. In R. Romano, P. Rosenthal, S. Skrovan, L. Schneider, T. Cawley, J. Stevens, S. Smiley, & R. Rosegarten (Producers), Everybody Loves Raymond. Los Angeles, CA: CBS.

[23] Hess, J. (Writer/Director) & Hess, J. (Writer). (2004). Napoleon Dynamite. [Motion picture]. United States: Fox Searchlight Pictures & Paramount Pictures.

[24] Greenwald, N. (Producer) & Caro, N. (Director). (2005). North Country[Motion picture]. United States: Warner Bros.

[25] Cruise, T., Wanger, P. (Producers), & Crowe, C. (Director/Producer). (2005). Elizabethtown [Motion picture]. United States: Paramount Pictures.

[26] Bernardi, B., & Herlihy, T. (Producers), & Coraci, F. (Director). (1996). Click [Motion picture]. United States: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

[27] Bernstein, A., Bliss, T., Davis, A., Freitag, J. (Producers), & Ratner, B. (Director). (2000). The Family Man [Motion picture]. United States: Universal Pictures.

[28] Brooks, J., Mark, L., Sakai, R. (Producers), & Crowe, C. (Director/Producer). (1996). Jerry Maguire [Motion picture]. United States: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

[29] Chupack, C., Stumpe, K. A. (Writers), & Zinberg, M. (Director). (1999). Working girl [Television series episode]. In R. Romano, P. Rosenthal, S. Skrovan, L. Schneider, T. Cawley, J. Stevens, S. Smiley, & R. Rosegarten (Producers), Everybody Loves Raymond. Los Angeles, CA: CBS.

[30] Programs for the Theological Exploration of Vocation (2007). Movie Bibliography. Retrieved June 21, 2007, from http://www.ptev.org/indexer.aspx?sect=resources&tid=-11&iid=58.

Billie Streufert, M.S., N.C.C., is the Director of the Career Development Center at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, South Dakota. She earned her Master's Degree in Counseling and Student Personnel from Minnesota State University, Mankato, and has over six years of experience in career and academic planning. For the past three years she has instructed a career planning course. Prior to holding this position, she served as a Career Counselor at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and as an Academic Advisor at North Hennepin Community College in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota. She enjoys career development because it is a privilege to accompany students on their journey as they wrestle with some of life's most difficult questions. She may be reached at 605-677-5307 or billie.streufert@gmail.com

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Sr Ramos   on Thursday 03/31/2016 at 07:14 PM

This was very helpful. Thank you!

Deanna G.   on Wednesday 07/06/2016 at 01:25 PM

I can't begin to tell you how excited I am to have found this article, the references and the suggestion to Theological Exploration organization. I have begun to teach a career exploration class and I think it is so important to use many different ways to reach students and discuss concepts and most students get excited about movies and tv it really does have a huge impact on day to day life and culture. Thank you thank you!! I'm sharing this all over the place! If anyone has suggestions on more I'm open to it especially when thinking about the tv show from the 90s "Felicity" for college students development and major decisions.

Deanna G.   on Tuesday 07/12/2016 at 12:42 PM

I'm having problems finding the movie bibliography with career themes. Can you send it to me? The link in the references above does not lead me to a movie bibliography and the website above that is confusing. Help! Thanks!

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the comments shown above are those of the individual comment authors and do not reflect the views or opinions of this organization.